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  News arrow Members arrow C.J. Ramone arrow 1998-06 — Interview with C.J. Ward (www.prime-choice.com)
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Johnny Ramone

— Why don’t we begin right away with your formative years and a quick recap of your musical history prior to the “Ramones” and “Los Gusanos”. What initially got you interested in music?
— Well, I kinda grew up around it. My dad, and my mom also, were big music fans, so I kinda grew up listening to all kinds of good stuff. I got my first instrument when I was in like, eighth grade. Some friends of mine had a band and they didn’t have a bass player. I asked my mom and dad to pick up a bass for me and they got me one. And I just figured out all the songs that these guys played by myself, and that was the beginning.

— It’s funny, the song “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” is probably my favorite “Ramones” tune. It was on some “K-tel” compilation, and I think it’s my earliest recollection of the band. What’s your first recollection of the “Ramones”?
— First recollection of the “Ramones”? Probably... good question. I guess I heard of them a little bit, probably like, the early 80s. My first memory of the “Ramones” — that’s a tough one! Actually, probably, my cousins lived in Queens and they had heard of the “Ramones” pretty early, and the first time I heard them was at their house. I don’t remember what song exactly, but that’s probably the first time I ever heard them — I was really impressed right off.

— How did your involvement with the “Ramones” come about?
— I just heard of the auditions, and I went down and auditioned. A friend of mine just called me up one day and said, “Hey, the “Ramones” are auditioning bass players”. So I went down, just for the sake of being able to say that I jammed with the “Ramones”, but it turned out okay.

— Dee Dee Ramone was very, very popular. Did you have a hard time with the fans when you first joined the band?
— Yeah, of course.

— Your writing contributions to the “Ramones” are rather limited, basically being “Scattergun” and “Got Alot To Say” on Adios Amigos. For the most part, even after Dee Dee left, he still contributed heavily to the “Ramones”. Were you not encouraged to contribute as a writer?
— I was... really, they just left it up to me. They never said anything really, either way. But they let me know that if I wrote anything, it would be considered.

— Well, that’s cool. Your involvement with “Los Gusanos” dates back about five or six years. In light of such a heavy touring schedule with the “Ramones”, why did you pursue another musical project?
— Mostly for fun, and because I wanted to just try to jam with my friends and write some songs. I had never written songs before, so I figured I should give it a shot. “Los Gusanos” gave me the chance to do that.

— What was the reaction from the other members of the “Ramones” when you started doing this outside gig?
— They didn’t really care either way.

— I understand that you played a couple of shows with Dee Dee and Marky in a band called “The Remains” a couple of years ago. At the time, was that meant to be a permanent gig?
— No, no, I just did it for the chance to work with Dee Dee ‘cause he was always my favorite Ramone.

— If the “Ramones” hadn’t disbanded, would you still be with them?
(pauses) Um... that’s hard to say. (laughs)

— Well, you achieved your notoriety, obviously with the “Ramones”, as a bass player. Why the switch to guitar with “Los Gusanos”?
— I’ve always been a bass player. It was more, just for a challenge, than anything else.

— And how’s it been working out so far? I mean, is it something you plan on continuing with?
— Yeah. That’s my job with “Los Gusanos”, rhythm guitar and singing. I miss playing bass, but that’s alright.

— If you had to compare, say, the merits of either instrument, what would the merits of the bass be, as opposed to guitar and vice-versa?

— It depends. It’s hard to say. Everybody has something that they do that really makes them feel good or really gets them off, y’know? Playing music is what I do. That’s my absolute favorite thing to do.

— So regardless of what you’re playing, as long as you’re doing some sort of...
— Yeah, just making music. That’s pretty much all I’m really concerned with.

— Well, y’know, it’s kinda funny — in all the promotional material that “Mayhem” has put out about “Los Gusanos”, they’re really hyping you guys as being a punk band. I think it was in the bio, it said “recalls the glory of New York’s revered punk scene, fresh explosion of pure, unadulterated punk attitude”. But it’s funny, in a lot of things I’ve seen, like on the internet, “Ramones” fans have been describing the sound as hard rock and metal. What’s your take on the “Los Gusanos” sound?
— We call it motor rock.

— Oh, that’s cool! I like that!
— I don’t know, it’s hard to say. To me, it reminds me more of like, early “Iggy and The Stooges” and the MC5, stuff like that. It’s more of a throwback to that stuff than it is to — ’cause when you say “punk rock”, people think like, mohawks and the whole British punk thing. They don’t really think of that stuff, y’know, Johnny Thunders-type stuff.

— See, that’s funny, ‘cause I do. I mean, if you say “punk rock”, I think of like, New York, CBGB’s...
— Right. Well, you’re probably older; you’re probably somewhere around my age.

— Yeah. Well, in listening to this record, I gotta tell ya, I really like “Bad Day”. I like “Helldorado”, I like “Strip”, I like “Blue Sky”, I like “Low”. How ‘bout yourself? What songs on this album do you think best typify “Los Gusanos” to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
— Well, we wrote those songs over the course of two or three years, y’know, so the musical styles vary a little bit from song to song. But probably more like “Helldorado”, “Dead Man’s Curve” style stuff I like the best.

— Well, it’s funny that you say you would consider it motor rock, ‘cause that’s perfect. I mean, it’s an album that, personally, I think works best when you’re in the car. Y’know, you put it in, windows down, the pedal hammered down.
— Yeah, definitely.

— The tracks on this new album are all credited to the entire band. Is the songwriting process in this band really a collaborative effort?

— Yeah, totally. (snickers) Everybody plays what they wanna play. (roger laughs) That’s just how we do it. Y’know, with the “Ramones”, I was limited as to what I could do, really — not by anybody more than myself. ‘Cause I didn’t want to try to change the “Ramones” sound at all ‘cause I didn’t feel like it was my place to do that. But I always said that if I was in a band that I would never tell anybody what to play, or how to go about performing their job or whatever.

— So is songwriting in this band a case of you guys just all get together and you start jamming and stuff jumps out?
— We do it like that sometimes. We really don’t have a set way to do it. Sometimes I’ll write a riff at home, and I’ll bring it in and I’ll play it and we’ll all start to jam on it. Sometimes the drummer will just start playing a beat and I’ll come up with a riff, or Ed will come up with a riff, or John will come up with a riff, and then we all jam on it. Sometimes Ed comes in with a whole song written, or John comes in with part of a song written and he teaches it to us and we just kind of feel it out. We try not to do anything as a formula. We try to keep it very spontaneous. We just try to keep it as honest as possible.

— How about lyrically? Who’s the...
— I write all the lyrics.

— And are most of your lyrics autobiographical or fictional?
— A little bit of everything. Like I said, I don’t wanna get stuck in any one thing, y’know what I mean? I wanna be free to write about whatever I want, and write however I want — anything from a love song, or about marijuana, to a fictional story like “Dead Man’s Curve” or something.

— Of the stuff that you’ve written for this record, which was harder, lyrically, to come up with, the stuff that’s real or the fictional stuff?
— I’ve got like, a weird thing with lyrics. Most of the lyrics I write usually don’t take me more than fifteen minutes to write the entire song. It’s just not tough for me to write lyrics. And I really like my own lyrics, which is one thing that I like about “Los Gusanos” — anything I’ve done with the band, I’ve really liked. There isn’t anything I would’ve changed or was disappointed in.

— Well, I think that’s kind of important, too. If you’re going to be standing out there singing it, you’ve gotta believe it.
— Yeah. Either that or you’ve gotta have a lot of fun doing it.

— Have you ever pursued any other type of writing, non-musical writing?
— I’ve written a couple of short stories that maybe someday I’ll get published, but not right now. (snickers) I’m just too busy with just “Los Gusanos” by itself. I’d like to do some writing eventually. I think I need to improve my vocabulary a little bit, but I’d love to give writing a shot. I think I could probably come up with some good stuff; I got a pretty good imagination.

— Oh, yeah. The sky’s the limit with that. If you can imagine it...
— Yup. It’s only limited to how far your mind will take you.

— Exactly. Is it aggravating to the other guys in your band that you guys are primarily being promoted right now as a band featuring CJ Ramone?
— No. If it wasn’t for the “Ramones”, we really couldn’t be doing it on the level that we are, so what is there to complain about? (snickers)

— Yeah. Well, I mean, just in the sense that if it’s a band of equals and everything at this point seems to get focused toward you.
— Right. But everybody understands. It would be nice to just not mention it and have it be about everybody, but the guys in the band understand that that’s the way things work. That’s just how it is. If there’s something about a band or someone in the band that’s going to help get you press that you can exploit, of course you’re going to use it. It would be stupid not to.

— How tight are you guys? I mean, do you guys hang out when you’re not (making music)?
— Yeah. Me, John (Chadwick) and Ed (Lynch) are a pretty tight unit. Bo (Matheson) lives in upstate New York and we really don’t get to see him that much when we’re not on the road, but we’re pretty tight as a band.

— Kind of one of those deals where if you weren’t in a band together, maybe you’d hang out anyway.
— Yeah. Definitely me, John and Ed would. And Bo... I don’t know. (laughs) Bo lives too far away.

— Well, how has it changed your outlook on your writing and music, and everything in general, being a father?
— Well, it’s given me more material to write about. I really haven’t noticed any change yet. I kind of been away from my wife and my son for a long time already. It’s already been almost three months, so there hasn’t been... y’know, I wasn’t even around for half his life; he’s only seven months old so I haven’t seen him all that much. My lifestyle really hasn’t changed much, except for the fact that I miss the both of them a lot, y’know? But for the most part, I think I’m pretty much the same.

— Wow! That’s gotta be tough. I couldn’t imagine being away from my wife for three months at a time.
— Yeah. Y’know, I think a lot of people get the wrong idea about being in a band sometimes. I guess if I was a young guy and disconnected, it would be a lot different. But I got a really cool girl and a son that I’d love to see, but I got all kinds of responsibilities to the band. It’s kind of hard to juggle the two, but my girl’s real understanding.

— That’s gotta be kinda cool. One of the things that I found I really didn’t expect when I got married was that anything that I decide to go into, it’s cool having somebody that standing there backing you up.
— Oh, yeah. That goes with almost anything. It’s nice to have somebody that can appreciate the whole thing with you. And she knows how much I wanna do this and make it work. Whenever something comes up, she’s always just says, “Go for it. I’ll be here when you get back”. That makes it a lot easier on me.

— How has it helped the band having Howard Stern’s stamp of approval?
— Helped the “Ramones”?

— I was under the impression that he had taken an interest in “Los Gusanos”.
— Oh, yeah. Yeah, he did. He’s been using one of our tunes as an outro to commercials once in awhile. We haven’t seen any big boost in record sales or nothing. I was just really psyched that he liked the band because I know he hears a lot of bands and stuff. That was pretty impressive to me.

— Which tune was he using?
— I think he was using “Dead Man’s Curve”.

— Y’know, it’s kind of a shame. I’ve listened to Howard’s show and it’s too bad that he doesn’t incorporate more music into it, because I think he’s got a really cool taste in music.
— Yeah, he does.

— Just hearing the little intros and outros and stuff like that, it’s like, “Man, I’d really like to hear the rest of that tune!”
— It’s probably got something to do with being afraid of picking a bad band that nobody’s going to like, y’know what I mean? I’m sure he’s trying to be as cautious as he can not to make himself look bad.

— Yeah, that’s true. I guess it’s different. If you’ve got five people listening to you, it’s no big deal.
— Right, exactly.

— You said you just got back from Europe.
— Yeah, we did two weeks in Germany.

— Germany — what was that like?
— Gruelling. We were on a tour bus for two weeks straight with a crazy band from England called “King Curtis Psychabilly Band”, and we just drank for two weeks straight. Came back with swollen livers and empty pockets.

— How is it different touring overseas, as opposed to the States?
— It’s a little more difficult overseas. Not so easy to find good food. If you’re touring in a place where they don’t speak much English, that makes it even harder. I don’t know — it’s similar, but different at the same time.

— Do you find that, especially in Europe and Asia, with Japan and China and stuff like that, that the fans are a lot more dedicated or hardcore than in the States?
— Oh yeah. Well, in the States, we’re very jaded because everybody comes to the States to make it, y’know? So everyone here is — well, not everyone, but a lot of music fans here are a bit on the jaded side.

— It’s funny, you just mentioned that when you were in Germany you were on a tour bus, because when I had initially set up a time for you and I to talk, you guys were, I believe, in the States on the road. And, it was going to be tough because you were actually driving.
— Yeah. (snickers) I’m a total road guy. I’m most at home when I’m on the road. I love to drive—I’m just about to drive to California. On Wednesday I’m driving out there; I’m driving to California, then I’m flying to Hawaii to go get my wife and my son and bring ‘em home.

— Oh, that’s cool.
— Yeah. Drive through the States together for a week or so. And, go to Vegas and go down to the four corners area and hit some of the old Indian ruins — Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly and stuff like that.

— Yeah, there’s some neat stuff out there. That’s pretty wild, though, when you get to the midwest and you could literally just put a brick on the gas pedal and tie the steering wheel down and fall asleep; you’d still be going.
— Yup.

— When you go out to California, are you driving by yourself?

— Yeah. I like to travel by myself.

— Yeah, so do I. You don’t have to worry about anybody switching the tapes or the radio station.
— Or asking you to pull over to use the bathroom. I guess I just enjoy being alone alot, y’know? It’s the best thing for ya.

— Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, ‘cause I’m the same way. I mean, I’ve got an hour commute every day to work and it’s just like — everybody goes, “Isn’t that rough making an hour commute to work and then back home?” I’m like, “No”. In the morning, it gives me time to wake up and listen to the radio and think.
— Unwind before you get home.

— Exactly, exactly.
— I usually love being alone, but I love being around a lot of people, too. But I need to be alone a lot of times, just so I can kind of get back in touch and be like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I remember where it’s at now”.

— Well, when are you guys planning on going back out on the road?
— We may have some dates with the “The Supersuckers” and “Zeke” in August — the midwest and the East coast. We’re hoping that comes through.

— Oh, cool! Maybe you’ll get up to New England?
— Yeah, we’ll be playing Boston if we do.

— Now, when “Los Gusanos” are out on the road, are you incorporating any “Ramones” material (into the shows)?
— No, no. None at all.

— I would assume you basically play the whole album.

— Ah... no, like five or six songs, and then a couple of covers and a whole lot of new material.

— What sort of covers are you doing?

— We do a “Velvet Underground” tune, “Waiting For The Man”. That’s on the B-side of the cassette single — it’s really cool.

— Actually, there’s a version that “Cheap Trick” did of it that’s pretty cool.
— “Waiting For The Man”?

— Yeah. It’s on the box set that they put out a couple years ago. It’s pretty wild, ‘cause it’s from back sometime in the 70s. It’s a live version (and) it was either from like, the “Whiskey” or one of the Hollywood clubs. Tom Petersson’s actually singing on it.
— Oh, that’s cool.

— It is, it’s pretty cool.
— And we do “Supernaut” by “Black Sabbath”, and we do another one by a band called “Ten Years After” from the Sixties called “I’d Love To Change The World.”

— Alvin Lee.
— Yeah, like a really beefed-up version of it. That was actually on our first CD release with “Alternative Tentacles Records”. It was a 4-song CD single benefit for the Oglala Lakota College; it’s a 4-year Native American-run school out on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

— In the course of our conversation, that’s the second time you’ve talked about Native Americans. Is there a fascination with that?
— Well, my dad’s part Iroquois.

— What do you think about a lot of the Indian casinos that seem to be popping up? I ask because if you pull out of my driveway, ten minutes in one direction, you’re at one; five minutes in the other direction and you’re at the other.
— Which ones are they?

— “Foxwoods” and “Mohegan Sun”, up here in Connecticut. I was just curious what your take was on that.

— Well, it’s kind of sad that that’s what they have to resort to to fuckin’ make money to keep themselves alive. But at the same time, it’s actually helping to save a lot of people from a pretty miserable existence. It helps them be able to make their own money and do what they need to do.

— It’s strikes me as funny, walking through either of these places, ‘cause I’m not big on gambling, but I get a kick out of watching all the people in these places. It’s really interesting — in a nutshell, the Native American history is obviously that the European white man came and took all their money and introduced them to alcohol. It’s pretty wild to walk through an Indian-run casino and see a bunch of white people sitting there gambling their money away and drinking free drinks. It’s just the damnedest thing.
— I think that’s called karma.

— In some interviews, you’ve mentioned playing with Lemmy as a highlight of your time with the “Ramones”. Any chance we’ll see you guys sharing a bill with “Motörhead”?
— We’d love to. We would definitely love to do that. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to eventually.

— Aren’t they cool? It’s just like, the coolest band. I saw them once, a couple of years ago, out in California. I think it was the “Palladium” in L.A. It was pretty wild — they were doing “Ace Of Spades” and Phil’s guitar just cut out right at the beginning of it.
— And you wouldn’t even know the difference, right? (laughs)

— Well, no, it was funny. It just blew out, so the road crew’s trying to get everything going again, and he just stood out there without a guitar. So he just air-guitared the whole song.
— Wow, that’s awesome.

— It was cool. They just kept playing like nothing happened. It was pretty wild.
— That’s  “Motörhead”.

— Are there any other bands that you would like to share a stage with?
— Yeah, we like to go out with L7 alot. I think we do well with them. “The Supersuckers” and “Zeke”, we’re getting to go out with — well, maybe, hopefully. I guess there are some bands out there — it’s just really weird right now because there aren’t many rock and roll bands playing out. We’ve had difficulty finding bills that we fit on. We’ve either been stuck on punk rock bills or heavy metal bills, and we kinda don’t fit into either category. So, it’s a little difficult. We’re just hoping that we can pull in a big enough audience that we can make a living touring and take care of business, and just stay on the road for five or ten years (and) have a good time.

— Is that something you’d like to see, this band lasting for many years?

— Oh, yeah! Yeah, I sure would. ‘Cause I know we’re just kinda coming into our own now, musically, that is. We just really getting used to writing songs and figuring out what we’re really about. It’s funny because in the beginning, we were like, “Man, what the hell are we? What the hell are we?” Finally, one day, a friend of mine coined the phrase. He was like, “Man, you guys are just like, motor rock”. A guy named Josh Homme from “Kyuss”, a pretty cool band from out on the West coast. They’re not together anymore, but it was like, “Wow. Yeah, that’s it, man”. ‘Cause we were just telling people we were a rock and roll band. And people were like, “Yeah, but what kind? What would you compare it to?” We were having so many problems coming up with an answer.

— That’s perfect, though. I think that’s a perfect way to describe it. What’s you plan now for another album?
— November, hopefully, we’ll be in the studio recording some new material.

— And you said you’ve been playing some new stuff out on the road.
— Yeah. (snickers) We’ve probably got enough material for another two records.

— (Is there) anything in particular you want people to know?
— Just that we’ve got a website that if people are interested or they wanna check tour dates, we’re at losguanos.com.

— I checked that out; that was pretty cool. You guys will go on there every now and then, and your updates are right from you.
— Thanks. Yeah, I usually try to put it all together. It’s one of the things I miss about being in the “Ramones”. I mean, it was so nice to just get called when the tour was coming up, and then go out and play and come home and fuck off. But now, that just don’t happen. I come home and I have to get back to business right away.

— So the days off aren’t really days off.
— Yeah, you’re not kidding.

Roger Lotring, www.prime-choice.com

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